Deep-fried taste with less fat, calories

Posted: July 05, 2007

The satisfying crunch of deep-fried food is a rare indulgence for anyone trying to cut fat and calories.

And with good reason. Though a golden, crispy fried catfish fillet served with fresh corn on the cob and homemade coleslaw makes a perfect summer supper, the fish alone will pack nearly 500 calories and 29 grams of fat, or nearly half what you should eat a day.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Use the easy oven-frying technique for fish or poultry that gives you results that similar to deep-fried, yet with just a third of the calories and just a tenth of the fat.

The fish or poultry first is coated with a layer of buttermilk, mustard or even a low-fat creamy salad dressing. The pieces then are coated with fresh seasoned breadcrumbs, crushed flake cereals or cornmeal. This coating method replicates the crunchy texture of fried foods and adds flavor.

To achieve a beautiful golden brown crust, all sides of the fish or chicken are misted with spray cooking oil. Canola or vegetable oil are good because they add very little flavor and can take the high heat of baking without burning. This adds only about a gram of fat per serving.

Place the coated pieces on a wire rack that has been set over a baking sheet, which allows hot air to circulate around the food and produces an even crisp. High heat is key to crunchy, golden results. Cooking on the highest oven rack, where the heat is most intense, helps, too.

To make breadcrumbs, process day-old sandwich bread in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Three slices produce roughly a cup of crumbs. Yellow cornmeal or crumbs made from cornbread or corn muffins also make excellent Southern-style breading. Crumbled breakfast cereals such as shredded wheat or crisped rice are great for adding crispiness. *

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